Angels in a Snowstorm on Mt Athos - Bokeh?

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Snow Angels.jpg


file_607755.jpg


This image has been around for years and keeps getting repeated in collections of "unexplained" photos. But what is it?

It shows a group of five people standing on a snow-covered road. It's snowing. There are various white cross-shaped lights visible that look like this:
Metabunk 2019-01-09 13-11-59.jpg

There's a variety of versions of this photo, including this one of it being displayed in a picture frame:
1396681469_afon2014.jpg

And someone holding the image:

15888_640.jpg

What looks like a photo of a photo:

ingeri pe muntele athos.jpg

And some lower resolution images that seem designed to look more "authentic"
tromaktiko2048.jpg

There are various different stories behind this image, example:
https://sites.google.com/site/orthodoxy1054/thaumata-oi-zontanes-apodeixeis-tes-yparxes-tou-theou
The scattering of lights in a photo looks quite like "orbs" - a photographic effect where the flash of the camera reflects off nearby dust motes or snowflakes and being out of focus they appear as orbs, like this:


But orbs are usually circular. How could these all end up shaped like little angels? One way is if there's something in front of the lens blocking light in that particular shape. For example, I just cut this shape in some paper and held it in front of the camera lens:

Metabunk 2019-01-09 14-20-12.jpg

Pointing it at a Christmas tree (with it the other way up, the image comes out inverted)
Metabunk 2019-01-09 14-21-14.jpg

What about snow? To simulate some snowflakes I hung a couple of pieces of paper from some fishing line and dangled them in front of my camera.

Metabunk 2019-01-09 14-27-17.jpg

With no flash it looked like this, just two indistinct white blues in the center of the image:
Metabunk 2019-01-09 14-23-31.jpg

Turn the flash on, and they stand out more:
Metabunk 2019-01-09 14-24-17.jpg

Hold the piece of paper in front, and they stand out really well.
Metabunk 2019-01-09 14-25-00.jpg

The similarities with the "snow angel" photo are quite apparent. You have the same shape in the same orientation. It's white, with various brightnesses and sizes. It's also snowing. It seems very likely that we are just seeing "bokeh" (out of focus highlights) that are shaped like this because something is blocking the lens.

Is it deliberate? Well, it's possible that something could accidentally do this, it's also possible that someone could have an "angel bokeh" cover on, and forgot about it. It's also possible they tried to get the effect deliberately. That's not that important - the point here is that the effect is relatively easy to duplicate, and so we don't need to seek out supernatural explanations
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
As well as something obscuring the lens, there's also the possibility that it's a function of the lense itself. It's possible that the camera model had a defect or design flaw (or just a design, it's not really a flaw to have odd shaped bokeh) that gave this result.

The aperture of a camera is basically the shape of the hole that the light goes through. Usually, this is defined by one of two things: the shape of the shutter, or the variable aperture (which is adjustable for exposure and depth of field).

Many cameras have a variable aperture that's hexagonal or octagonal in shape, created by a number of overlapping blades. This results in bokeh of the same shape.



A search for "odd shaped aperture" gives a few results:

There's the Canon Snappy Q, an old film point-and-shoot:
http://photojottings.com/canon-snappy-q-review/
Metabunk 2019-01-10 07-17-36.jpg

While this is not the cross shape, it shows the potential for an in-camera aperture of an unusual shape.

Here's the Minolta AutoPak 460Tx
http://photojottings.com/minolta-autopak-460tx-review/
Metabunk 2019-01-10 07-22-01.jpg

Which has a rounder but more cross-shaped aperture.

Given these examples, an in-camera explanation seems plausible. Unfortunately, the make of the camera does not seem to be mentioned anywhere.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
there's also the possibility that it's a function of the lense itself.
but then all the pictures should have it no? maybe they did, but that is a pretty annoying shape to have in every picture.
Looks more like Jesus on the cross (except the head) than an angel, to me. An unpleasant shape to be stuck with.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
could it be a star bokeh that is a bit bent? my camera wont go out of focus so i'm not able to experiment.
upload_2019-1-10_12-14-34.png
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
but then all the pictures should have it no? maybe they did, but that is a pretty annoying shape to have in every picture.
It would only occur when you got a bright out of focus dot - like an "orb". Those are relatively uncommon.

It also might depend on the camera settings if it's like the cheap cameras seen above.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Another thing in support of the bokeh is the vignetting — the darkening of the image towards the edges and corners.
ingeri pe muntele athos - vig.jpg
 

LREKing

New Member
It strikes me that the closer the "angels" are, the smaller they are. I'm sure I can think of no explanation other than magic. /s
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Quick little video that highlights bokeh shapes don't necessarily need to be done with a flash
You do need a collection of bright point lights though. Which generally means something like Christmas/holiday lights or a night scene. The whole thing with "orbs" came about because people did not see any bright lights in the scene by eye, but they show up with the flash.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
It strikes me that the closer the "angels" are, the smaller they are. I'm sure I can think of no explanation other than magic. /s
I have the exact opposite impression: the bigger angels are brighter and seem closer. How can you tell?
 

Jason Bush

New Member
Here’s something intriguing to me. It’s a single point of light that causes the effect, stars in this case. Since these single points of light are behind the girl (not blocked by her head), how are the stars PARTIALLY blocked by her head? I think I have an idea on why this is, but I’m curious what others think.


24D823C9-3530-4BFD-B78A-8BFA43AF1EAA.png
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Here’s something intriguing to me. It’s a single point of light that causes the effect, stars in this case. Since these single points of light are behind the girl (not blocked by her head), how are the stars PARTIALLY blocked by her head? I think I have an idea on why this is, but I’m curious what others think.


View attachment 35773
I’d not thought about that before, and one “angel” is seemingly a bit behind one person.
I think it is because the light path is initially a cone, from the point of light to the front lens, so part of that cone can be obscured.
 

Jason Bush

New Member
I’d not thought about that before, and one “angel” is seemingly a bit behind one person.
I think it is because the light path is initially a cone, from the point of light to the front lens, so part of that cone can be obscured.
Yes. I think you’re on the right track there.

I think this also relates to how a wider aperture has a narrower depth of field. It’s counterintuitive really, letting in more light resulting in less focus. But when you think of it, like you said, as a cone (at least from a single point to the edge of the lens) it becomes easier to inderstand. Now when you close down that apeture, it makes the cone smaller, thus decreaing the light from other areas that causes the focus blur (outside of where the lens is focused).

I used to be a newspaper photographer decades ago. So I’m very familiar with all the concepts, but I don’t have an SLR anymore. However, I would venture a guess that with the setup above, if you close down the aperture (higher f-stop), the star effect would go away.
 

Jason Bush

New Member
As far as the “angel” appearing behind and partially blocked (this is very apparent when the slider is moved to the darker version of the image). How does that work?!?! That’s really confusing to me. Especially since the effect in this case is caused by particles between the lens and the subjects. Or is that angel caused by a lightpoint source from behind the group?
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
As far as the “angel” appearing behind and partially blocked (this is very apparent when the slider is moved to the darker version of the image). How does that work?!?! That’s really confusing to me. Especially since the effect in this case is caused by particles between the lens and the subjects. Or is that angel caused by a lightpoint source from behind the group?
I think it's actually in front, and just a lucky alignment makes it look like it's behind. The bottom of the shape not symmetrical, which makes the lower right edge look like it's cut out a bit.

Metabunk 2019-01-19 07-36-47.jpg

Metabunk 2019-01-19 07-34-26.jpg

Then where it seems like it goes "behind" the shoulder, that's actually just where it ends. The color matches the "cut-out" shape somewhat, but you can see the light bleeds into the coat both on the shoulder and the collar/hood.
 

purpleivan

New Member
I'd agree with Mick on this.

I did something similar with the image (adjusted levels to get better contrast) to give better definition to the shape of the bokeh above the man's shoulder. I then cut out the bokeh above it in the image, scaled it uniformly to have the same width as the one that appears to be behind the shoulder and overlaid the position of the "shoulder bokeh" as closely as I could. What I found was that the shape of the two coincided very closely, with nothing lost at the base to the man's shoulder.
 

LREKing

New Member
I have the exact opposite impression: the bigger angels are brighter and seem closer. How can you tell?
The larger ones above their heads (one partially hidden by that guy's shoulder) appear to be behind them, while the smaller ones to the left appear to be in front of the trees and snow (about the same distance as the figures) and tiny. That's how my brain interprets them.
 

bosscock

New Member
do we have a timescale for the photograph, the photograph quality, makes me feel. None DSLR film, possible 35mm 'Instamatic ' point and shoot type camera (mentioned above).

if we knew the approx year (looks 1980's to me) then we could look for models with the specific shutter configuration mentioned above... which could have malfunctioned in the cold...
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Randomy saw this photo on Instagram. It's Harrison Ford, with a vaguely similar highlight.

Metabunk 2020-05-31 21-15-43.jpg

CZxU3lFWYAAXGc0.jpg
 
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